Its better to give than receive?


One thing that it rarely done regarding convention games – and even more rarely, done *well* – is criticism. First things first, its probably best to ask someone if they want to chat about their game. A GM may well have just had a bad game from their point of view and be feeling down about it anyway, and in no mood to be told by someone else that it was poor also. They might have other things going on in their lives and have struggled through to run a game anyway so they don’t let people down who’ve showed up. There could be all manner of other reasons – perhaps they just don’t like talking about games? So, the best thing to do, before we even start, is make sure your GM wants to hear what you’ve got to say.

Presuming they’re a decent sort and open to different views and looking to see how they can improve their game or generally what people thought of how things worked. The key here is to keep things constructive and limit the amount of criticism your going to give. A couple of good points well made will do more good than a dozen poorly phrased or blurted out comments. Pick your key issue and a quick win perhaps? If there’s a single point that you think is most important, bring that up and give the GM something to work on. If there’s a little pointer you can offer up that’s an easy change or addition for someone to make and its going to improve their game, then they’ll be glad to hear it and feel better for learning a new trick too.

The manner of delivery is also important. If you say “I thought the way you did X was rubbish” its not really going to win you any friends, or make the GM change the way he runs things in the future. If you approach it from more the angle “You know X? I might have tried doing *this* with it”, its more likely to open the GM up to a new idea and its much more chance of making an impact. Someone thinking about an issue or approach and coming to their own conclusion is frequently better than being told. A lot of time and effort goes into running a game and its lonely behind that GM screen, so take care in how you phrase things. If someone’s got bad behaviours though, for example is belligerent, it definitely worth pointing this out.

Its also worth making it clear if there are system or setting issues – rather than a problem with the game session that was run. Even if you think you’re being clear, as a GM you can’t help but take things personally when someone complains. So, take a step back if you’re pointing things out that you don’t like about the rules and make sure you’re clear that it’s that that you are discussing, and not the session you’ve just played. Similarly, GMs should relax a little and try to divorce their feeling about the session and how they performed from criticisms of the system or setting they chose (which is hard to do).

Be careful of getting stuck into minutiae – its very easy to pick up on one or two decisions that the GM made that you think were unfair or you’d have done differently – to obsess over the odd die roll and think how it could all have been different. The GM has to make (sometimes 100’s of) decisions throughout four hours, with people constantly asking questions and wanting timely responses. During the game you can always offer an alternate roll, or different skill, or whatever it is you think is appropriate (as long as you don’t get hung up on it, slow the game down or get into unnecessary bartering), but the same goes afterwards too. Get some clarification if you want it, but don’t get all shirty about a couple of decisions, because its too late now and when it comes down to it, you need to be asking did you have fun and could you run a game completely perfectly? I’d hope the answers are, respectively, “Yes” and “No, but I’ll always strive towards it”.

A key point to remember is that people get their jollies in different ways. A session that you consider dull and lifeless, may to someone else have been slow-burning and tense. We don’t all want the same. There’s no harm in mentioning constructively what you’d have liked to have seen or done differently, but there’s no point launching into a big tirade at someone – for one thing they probably won’t listen or take it in, and for another they’ll probably retreat further into their corner and think you’re a bit of a jackass. If you’ve got serious issues, you’re better of saying exactly nothing and walking away – then letting rip to your friends later. Its cathartic that way.

As a GM, I’d definitely encourage you to garner feedback from your gamers. It’s a sad truth that most comments come from a vocal disgruntled minority. My time in the Retail sector taught me that if something is done well and people are happy they may tell one or two people about it, if something is not to their liking, they’ll tell ten and shout louder. So don’t be put off completely by negative comments, but do spend a couple of minutes to see if there’s anything useful in them. Spend more time finding out what the quieter people thought though, and getting the positives from your games as well as what can be improved.

As a player, remember that we want to encourage people to run more and better games. Nitpicking to the nth degree or giving a barrage of criticisms isn’t going to help this. Offering up some selective pointers or your own hints and tips, ideas for different ways of doing things, or simply what you thought went well and you’d like to see more of – now *that’s* going to get some positive results.

  • Find out if your GM wants to hear about the game
  • Offer a limited, concise and constructive choice of points
  • Don’t neglect to mention what went well
  • If a game was really bad from your point of view, you’re better to just walk away
  • Think about what you can learn from what happened
  • Be prepared for the GM to counter and don’t get all defensive – take the comments on board – it’s a two way street
  • Be open yourself and look for feedback of everyone, not just the ones who push themselves forward

2 thoughts on “Its better to give than receive?

  1. An excellent entry there Gaz and one I wholeheartedly agree with. I know I’m not the best GM out there and I can learn from everyone. Give me those comments and feedback. If just one piece of constructive feedback helps make me a better GM (whether through rules knowledge or general GMing style) so much the better 🙂

  2. Hi Dave,

    Be careful what you wish for mate! I’d love to say I take all feedback positively, but I’m only human and I don’t. I usually need a little reflection time before I admit to anything no matter how constructive or well intentioned.

    As a postscript to Gaz’ excellent advice I’d add this. Straight after the game, my head is a mess. Gimme an hour to unwind, preferably with a pint, before expecting any reasonable discourse.


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